Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Family Economic Security > Where there’s a will there’s a way

Where there’s a will there’s a way

What’s the lesson learned from the clean up after Tropical Storm Irene?

Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter summed it up best in a New York Times story last week. The Shumlin administration received well-deserved front-page kudos for getting the state’s highways and bridges fixed and functioning in record time.

“The attitude,” said Minter, “was, ‘We’ll do the work and we’ll figure out how we’re paying for it, but we’re not waiting.’”

In other words, the administration was committed to rebuilding the state’s infrastructure after the flood regardless of where the money was coming from. That was the right attitude and it’s not a surprise that it got results.

It’s the opposite, however, of the usual manage-to-the-money approach where the state estimates its annual receipts at current tax rates and then decides what it can and can’t do.

We’re still waiting, for example, for the state to investigate the backlog of reports alleging abuse and neglect of elderly and disabled Vermonters. Organizations representing the victims felt compelled to sue this week to force the state to take action. We’re still tying to figure out how to pay for state policies that we know will reduce poverty—11.7 percent of Vermonters lived in poverty in 2010, up from 9.4 percent in the 2000 Census. And we’re still waiting to have adequate and affordable childcare for Vermont’s working families.

If we had managed to the money with post-Irene repairs, we would still be reading about impassable highways and stranded residents. The state would still be in crisis.

And in fact, the state is in crisis, but not in ways that make headlines. At least 70,000 of us live in poverty, and our middle class is losing ground. But our elected leaders aren’t showing the post-Irene, can-do attitude to tackling these problems.

After Irene, the state had a clear goal of rebuilding roads and bridges and our public officials kept at it until we achieved those results. We need to bring the same approach to the rest of state government and to state budgeting. Instead of allocating a certain sum each year to anti-poverty programs, the Legislature should adopt a budget that will reduce poverty. Instead of arguing that we can’t afford to hire more investigators, our political leaders should be saying we can’t afford to allow elderly or disabled Vermonters to be abused or neglected.

In other words, Montpelier needs to use the new thinking that guided the flood recovery – a commitment to results – to create a state that works for all Vermonters.

Posted by Paul Cillo on December 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm

4 Responses to “Where there’s a will there’s a way”

  1. Margaret Luce says:

    You are right, commitment to results (and examining outcomes re investment of tax dollars) is the best way to ensure Vermont has a working infrastructure that serves its citizens and maintains a vibrant state.

  2. Doug Hoffer says:

    Well said.
    However, a commitment to results will require more than money. The poverty rate was 12.1% in 1969. Here we are 42 years later and the rate is 11.7%. We have failed. Many of our anti-poverty efforts are income transfers that help solve short-term problems but don’t help people build wealth.

    We need new strategies as well as more money.

  3. cgregor says:

    Dealing with poverty is not a matter of transferring income; as the experience of the welfare mom in Burlington who blew through a $14 million lottery win in ten years shows, it’s a matter of re-orienting a poor person’s definition of success. Low self-esteem, impulsiivity and life in an environment supportive of those traits are some of the factors.

    One way to deal with it would be to turn low-income housing neighborhoods into colleges for community living, where residents of all ages would earn credit toward their next living situation by engaging in activities not previously thought within their scope. This was done on a very limited (pre-computer) basis in the Westview neighborhood of Springfield in the late Nineties– a wide range of endeavors, from doing neighborhood recycling or attending the weekly community meeting to having a child attend a baby-sitting course or come home with an A for a final grade, gained points for the family. A mathematical formula prevented eager beavers from hogging the winnings. It ran for about three years. The highest amount awarded was equal to three months rent in what the winners considered to be a nicer neighborhood.

  4. Sharon says:

    I have been quoting you since I read this posting. Your phrase “manage to the money” is exactly what not to do. The Workers’ Center is promoting a “people’s budget” which is more an ideology rather than a true budget, but it boils down to making sure we budget to people’s needs first, essential human rights: health care, heat, housing, food, transportation, childcare, a living wage. The residents of the state DID follow this strategy post Irene! We think that when we start managing people’s needs first, many of the budgeting issues will resolve and make more sense when we raise revenues (which of course the state needs to do these things) but they should not be regressive or fall on the most in need or create an underclass in the process.